A goal in the second minute from Gabriel Jesus meant a City revival from the 3-0 Anfield defeat was suddenly on the cards.
However, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino struck in the second half to kill the tie which did serve up an intriguing tactical battle between Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.
Goals – 1
Shots – 20
Possession – 68%
Tackles – 15
Dribbles – 18
Goals – 2
Shots – 5
Possession – 32%
Tackles – 15
Dribbles – 14
City were set up in a 3-4-3 formation with Guardiola taking a leaf out of Gareth Southgate’s book and deploying Kyle Walker on the right side of a three-man central defence. A diamond midfield with Raheem Sterling at its tip dominated the middle of the park while testing Liverpool’s resolve.
It was always a risky game at the back though and a deadly Liverpool attack on the break extinguished any hope of a comeback in the second half.
Retaining their preferred 4-3-3 system, Liverpool were perhaps more compact than they’ve been all season – and they needed to be. They struggled to get on the ball for much of the first half but stuck to their guns despite going behind in the second minute.
With City getting more desperate as the game progressed, the Reds were on hand to pounce on any errors and do what they do best – hit on the break.
TACTICAL TALKING POINTS
OVERLOADING THE FLANKS
With Liverpool naturally more inclined to contain City, Guardiola went with three at the back, outnumbering the visitors in midfield and intelligently overloading the flanks.
Fernandinho was entrusted with anchoring the midfield while Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva were split pretty wide on either side of him, affording them the option to drift into central areas when the space opened up or link-up with Sterling or Sane out wide. They put Liverpool’s young full-backs under pressure in the first half but couldn’t capitalise on the advantage.
FRONT THREE PLAY
Salah wasn’t seeing much of the ball out wide and midway through the first half, he moved centrally.
Firmino was key to containing the hosts as he dropped into midfield regularly while defending, leaving Mane and Salah available on the break. The Egyptian focused on getting on the end of final balls and keeping City’s stretched defence occupied, inevitably equalising.
While Liverpool weren’t as aggressive as they were in the first leg, the front three kept up the high press and it paid dividends, leading to the second goal.
Credit to the Spaniard for the way he approached the game. His tactics gave his side the best possible chance and they were on the wrong end of a couple of controversial decisions. He loses points for needlessly getting sent to the stands for the second half.
Rating – 6/10
Klopp was calm. That was to be expected as his side boasted a 3-0 advantage but it would’ve been easy to get rattled after the early goal. Instead, he only made subtle tweaks to ensure his side retained an attacking threat and waited for City to slip up.
Rating – 7/10
Pep Guardiola’s Premier League champions-elect gained valuable hope almost from kick-off when Gabriel Jesus tapped in following feisty work from ex-Red Raheem Sterling. This narrowed the aggregate advantage to 3-1.
But after Leroy Sane had a goal incorrectly flagged for offside close to the interval, the Blues imploded. As the dismissed Guardiola watched from the stands, Mohamed Salah dinked in and Roberto Firmino slotted into the bottom corner after Nicolas Otamendi’s mistake.
Here are our City player ratings:
MANCHESTER CITY (3-4-3)
Ederson – 6: Could have received worse than a yellow after repeatedly jabbing at Mane. Left exposed for Salah’s goal.
Kyle Walker – 6: Utilised in same role he now occupies for England. This negated his usual attacking influence from deep.
Nicolas Otamendi – 3: Lost head as Salah stood him up for crucial Liverpool opener. Even worse followed when he gifted second to Firmino.
Aymeric Laporte – 5: Record buy was burned off by Mane’s pace and trickery for opener. At present, looks short of standard expected.
Fernandinho – 4: The Brazil dynamo looks to be running on fumes. Pass accuracy was way down at 82.1 per cent.
Kevin De Bruyne – 5: Drifted between centre and wide right. But delivered only two key passes and five harmless shots.
David Silva – 5: Similar story for Spain international. Tried to work overload on wings from his position in diamond. But no telling moment followed.
Raheem Sterling – 6: Helped give City perfect start when he, questionably, barged over much-bigger Van Dijk. Couldn’t build on this.
Bernardo Silva – 6: Began excellently and then faded. Hit post, but was hooked as influence diminished after the break.
Gabriel Jesus – 5: Comeback looked on when he found bottom corner for 13th goal of 2017/18. But no more shots from him followed.
Leroy Sane – 6: Overload on wings was designed to get best of him. Incorrectly flagged for offside for what would have been critical second goal.
Sergio Aguero – 5: Given more than 20 minutes to salvage something. Had one attempt which was off-target.
Ilkay Gundogan – 5: The ill-fitting tactical piece from first leg couldn’t deliver any redemption as City were well beaten at that stage.
But to be truthful, absolutely nobody saw this coming and the Catalan club are in a state of shock as they attempt to digest exactly what went wrong in the Italian capital.
Perhaps there was an element of complacency following the 4-1 victory in last week’s first leg, which appeared to have sewn up the tie and made the return match a formality.
Manager Ernesto Valverde was extremely anxious to guard against taking anything for granted, repeatedly stating in increasingly vexed tones during Monday’s pre-match press conference that his team still faced a tough task to get the result they needed for a semi-final berth.
We can be sure that Valverde also repeated those messages of caution in the dressing room, but there is a possibility they went into one ear of his players and straight out of the other.
“We are Barcelona and we’ve got a 4-1 lead against Roma from the first leg,” they may have been thinking. “Of course we’re going through.”
But that can only be a small part of the answer, if indeed it is relevant at all, because any feelings of casual entitlement among the visiting players will have quickly disappeared when Roma raced into an early lead.
From that moment onwards, it was abundantly clear that Barca had a fight on their hands, and if they had entered the game with a sense of complacency they certainly can’t have felt that way after the reborn Edin Dzeko fired home the opener.
Even the shock of that early goal, however, could not do anything to lift the visiting team and they continued to play as though they were in a trance. They were second to every loose ball, sloppily inaccurate in their distribution, slow to close down Roma’s runners and feeble in the challenge.
Simply outplayed, all over the pitch.
Although the inability of Lionel Messi – who sent two free-kicks well off target – to lift his team will inevitably dominate much of the post-match discussion, in truth the biggest shock was just how vulnerable Barca looked defensively throughout the game.
Barcelona crash out of Champions League after shock loss to Roma pic.twitter.com/w4q36cXDDS— united world (@UnitedWorld22) April 10, 2018
The biggest improvement effected by Valverde has been to tighten up his team defensively – not just in terms of the back four, but also the overall structure of the team to prevent the opposition from generating significant threat.
The team’s stats of just 16 goals conceded in 31 league games (less than half the total allowed by Real Madrid, for comparison’s sake) speaks for itself.
Barca have been extremely good defensively this season, but there was absolutely no sign of that solidity on this occasion as Roma followed a fairly straightforward game-plan – get the ball wide and deliver deep crosses to expose the lack of height of full-backs Nelson Semedo and Jordi Alba – and the visitors simply had no answers.
A batch of outstanding saves from Marc-Andre ter Stegen was the only reason Barca stayed ahead in the tie for so long, but even the German keeper was culpable for the first goal as he stayed rooted to his line, allowing Dzeko to score.
The second goal came through some calamitous defending from Gerard Pique, who has been top class this season but, like fellow central defender Samuel Umtiti, looked dreadfully uncomfortable all night.
Teams to overturn at least a 3 goal deficit in the first leg of the knockout stages of the Champions League:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 10, 2018
2003/04: Deportivo vs. AC Milan (5-4)
2016/17: Barcelona vs. PSG (6-5)
2017/18: Roma vs. Barcelona (4-4)
The magic of the Champions League. 💫 pic.twitter.com/D1jtJt2AzT
So there were individual errors and a lack of collective coherence, and the players must carry a great deal of responsibility for playing so poorly.
But there will also undoubtedly be severe criticism for Valverde, who has earned a lot of praise so far this season but will now experience the other side of the coin.
The coach will face particular stick for his failure to do anything to change the game, not making any substitutions until the final ten minutes even though his team was performing terribly all night.
Leaving Ousmane Dembele on the bench until the 85th minute was an especially timid move, and Valverde’s failure to act could now even throw his future at the club into doubt.